Surrounded by bodyguards, he climbed into a van after giving a speech at the Anderson School in Quito. Suddenly a burst of gunfire was heard.
That’s what the video shows, capturing the moment Ecuador’s presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was assassinated on Wednesday.
Immediately after the political journalist’s death, Ecuador’s current president, Guillermo Lasso, said: “Organized crime has come a long way”.
Although the investigation has only just begun, there are good reasons to suspect that the crime is the latest in a string of violence tarnishing the campaign for the August 20 presidential election by a powerful Man made. Organized criminal group operating in South American countries.
On Thursday afternoon, Ecuadorian authorities confirmed that, Murder suspect, Colombian national, dies in police custodyand six men arrested in connection with the crime.
Also on Thursday, President Russo said he asked the FBI to cooperate in clarifying the murder and that members of the US agency would arrive in his country in the next few hours.
There are indications that the murder was committed by an organization with many long tentaclesinside and outside Ecuador.
On the one hand, the incident took place in the capital, away from the country’s coastal areas, which are considered the main centers of activity of criminal groups and their venues. On the other hand, the attacks took place despite the fact that the candidates were heavily guarded.
President Russo himself reinforced the skepticism in an address to the nation Wednesday night.
“It’s a political crime, terrorist role“, the President confirmed at the Presidential Palace in Karondele.
“We have no doubt that this assassination was an attempt to disrupt the electoral process,” he added, while assuring: “We will not hand over power and democracy to organized crime“.
more than criminals
Russo’s harsh words were not only a product of the unrest over the incident, but also part of the stance his administration has taken against criminal gangs.
Last April, the Ecuadorian government officially announced the criminal organization’s ties to the Mexican and Colombian drug cartels and other international criminal groups.
Ecuador’s Minister of Public Security Wagner Bravo reported that the decision was adopted by the National and Public Security Council (Cosepe), which concluded that the gangs were a threat “to attack the structures of the state elements, thereby attacking the overall security of the country”. .
The declaration aims to promote the participation of the armed forces in the fight against these groups.This does not require taking steps such as exception state.
Although authorities did not specify which gangs they believed to be terrorists, within days local media began drawing up a list that included the names of the gangs Up to 20 organizations.
Below, the BBC presents details of the three most important organisations, based on presumed membership numbers, the impact of their activities and links to other multinational organisations.
pack of wolves
The gang is believed to be the second largest in the country as it allegedly About 8,000 members He was also involved in several prison riots in 2022 that left more than 400 people dead in the country, InsightCrime reported.
The outlet, which specializes in criminal violence in the region, added that the group was a spin-off from Los Choneros, which until recently was considered the most important criminal organization in the South American country.
Although initially its range was limited to the mountainous and jungle areas of southern Ecuador, Los Robos began to expand until it reached coastal Guayaquil.
Since 2016, Group and its allies provide weapons, security for new generations of Mexican cartel JaliscoEcuadorian newspaper Código Vidrio assured the company that it controls some of the cocaine routes in Ecuador.
However, InsightCrime is convinced that the gang, along with the Chone Killers and Los Tiguerones, formed a new group called Nueva Generación, which will carry out numerous raids against leaders and territories controlled by Los Choneros.
Although facilitating drug trafficking and prison extortion are their main activities, in recent years they have found Illegal gold mining is another source of income. As a result, local media claimed they imposed a 10 percent tax on miners operating illegally in areas such as Imbabura in the northern jungle province of the country.
Likewise, they have links to the 48th Front, a dissident group of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
With 12,000 to 20,000 members at its peak, the group became the most important criminal organization in Ecuador.
He was born in the city of Chone in the coastal province of Manabi in the 90s; and from there spread to Manta and other places along the Pacific coast.
Authorities initially identified it as an armed branch of a Colombian drug cartel aimed at controlling maritime trafficking routes to Mexico and the United States.but It also has ties to FARC dissidents who help them smuggle cocaine out of Colombia.According to Ecuadorian media reports.
In recent years, however, Los Choneros has been linked to Mexican criminal organizations.
“Los Choneros Mega Band Linked to Sinaloa Cartel”Colonel Mario Pazminio, former Ecuadorian military intelligence director and current security and defense analyst, assured Spanish media in 2021.
Over time, however, the group grew and found business in prisons. In this way, he took control of several prisons, and prison members not only took over petty drug trafficking, but also controlled prisons. Extort money from prisoners and plan kidnappingReporting for Insights into Crime.
Authorities estimate that their illegal activities in prisons benefit such organizations by about $120 million per year.
Other journalistic investigations have established that criminal groups such as the Albanian Mafia also operate in Ecuador and that they exist or have links to Los Choneros.
In recent years, however, the deaths and arrests of several leaders, as well as divisions caused by succession disputes, have weakened it, while rivals have taken the opportunity to crack down on it.
“Big gangs need to establish territorial control and they do it with fire and blood”Mario Pazmino added that he explained the wave of violence in and out of prisons that the country has experienced in recent years.
There were 3,513 murders in Ecuador between January and June this year, which means 58% increase compared to 2022The police reported recently.
Security agencies estimate that if the trend continues, the homicide rate will rise from 20 to 40 per 100,000 residents, making the country the most violent in the region.
Authorities insist that most of these crimes are the product of organized crime.
According to information processed by InsightCrime, the group was born in Guayaquil prison have been in business for at least ten yearsallowing his killers to eliminate members and leaders of other large organizations.
At some point, however, he started fighting for territory with Los Choneiros and antagonized them.
Notorious crimes have been committed in Los Lagartos, such as the 2021 murder of actor and TV presenter Efraín Ruales.
Today, the gang operates in 35 prisons across the country It would be another perpetrator of the bloody riots that have occurred in recent years.
Despite all the measures taken by the authorities, there seems to be no end to the rise of Ecuador’s criminal megagangs, with some convinced they are becoming cartels.
“Los Choneros, Los Lobos and even other smaller groups like Los Tiguerones and Chone Killers are no longer just armed groups tasked with securing their cargo, but are couriers for the big drug cartels in Mexico and the Balkans, especially in Albania Serve. They have controlled the internal route from the border to the portAn Ecuadorian official who is investigating the evolution of these criminal groups claimed to the digital newspaper Primicias.
Ecuador’s location between Colombia and Peru, two of the world’s largest drug producers, combined with weak institutions and economic inequality make the country a fertile ground for organized crime.
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